At two places during the Detroit auto show—first circulating on a Cobo Hall press-room table, then later slipped under my hotel-room door—I found a leaflet entitled: "Toyota: A Danger to America," carrying the footer, "I ain't dying for a Toyota." Wearing the language and design earmarks of auto-industry union propaganda (yes, I'm a Michigan native), it has a paragraph questioning Toyota's (NYSE:TM) safety and reliability, and mentioning the automaker's 3.8-million-vehicle recall to fix throttle pedals. Then it goes on to declare that "Toyota is also a danger to good American jobs," mentioning Toyota's plans to close its New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California.
The closure will affect 5,400 NUMMI employees, and about 50,000 supplier and support workers, the leaflet says; but as we reported last year the plant has only been operating at about half capacity and Toyota currently has a surplus of plant capacity. The NUMMI plant, which assembles the 2010 Toyota Corolla sedan and 2010 Toyota Tacoma pickup, was formerly a joint venture with GM—for some reason not mentioned in the leaflet—and is the Japanese automaker's only unionized U.S. plant.
It's not clear what the aggressive flyering effort is attempting to accomplish—arguing that Americans not purchase an automaker's vehicles, but also criticizing the automaker's planned closing of a still-open plant that builds those vehicles.
The motives get hazier when we confirm that the leaflet leads to a Teamsters Union site, CarBuyersBeware.com, which carries the banner of "How Bailed-Out Auto Giants Are Ripping Off American Consumers." It doesn't mention Toyota at all; instead most of the site contents are dedicated to a current campaign against Chrysler, accusing Chrysler of not coming through on the terms of its federal bailout and saying, in leaflets of a similar format (titled Fiat/Chrysler: Stiffing Taxpayers, Gouging Car Buyers), that "Chrysler is not planning to pay back the $3.7 billion of the loan it got from taxpayers. That's your money they're keeping."
And that talk of accountability is surprisingly close to what you'll see in releases from the National Taxpayers Union, who attempted to organize an ill-attended 'tea party' at the Detroit show this past Monday, to coincide with House Speaker Pelosi's visit to the show.
Am I the only one seeing the overlap? If our fever-check at Detroit was any indication, nearly everyone—except the automakers themselves—seems to be disgruntled with the automaker bailout to some degree. Maybe the Teamsters and the Tea Party have a little more in common than we think.